Welcome to November! As we speed through the last weeks of the year, it’s beginning to get too cold for outdoor gaming. But for the adventurous, in this month’s article we’ll talk about the history of some of the local libraries.
November 1st was National Author’s Day, and November is National Novel Writer’s Month, when thousands of writers across the world put hands to keyboard or pen to paper and try to produce 50,000 words in 30 days. So there’s a good chance a significant portion of these authors are holed up in a library somewhere.
Champaign-Urbana has a plethora of libraries if you count all the individual department libraries on campus, but today we’ll focus on two local libraries housed in older and more interesting buildings. With, of course, some interesting history.
The Urbana Free Library sits at the corner of Race and Green Street, and was one of the first public libraries in Illinois. Founded in 1874, the library existed as a rented reading room on Main Street until the current historical building was built in 1918. The original building was funded by the Busey family when Mary Busey donated $35,000 in memory of her husband, Samuel T. Busey. 1975 saw a large expansion, then a major addition and renovation, particularly to update technology, occurred in 2005. The current west wall was built with the intention of easily removing it to add on another wing, and the library has been acquiring nearby properties over the past several years in order to bring that additional wing to fruition.
Portions of the original building can still be seen inside the library. Of note are the honeycomb ceilings and some of the original marble. The library occasionally offers historical tours where visitors are treated to a narrative of the library’s history and a peek into the “behind the scenes” workings of the library, including the archives, staff offices, and “secret” passages staff use to navigate from one area to the other.
The library itself isn’t a game stop, but there are two library landmarks that are: the statue next to the south entrance and Megan’s Garden.
Called “Stack of Books Statue” in the Pokemon Go app, the statue in front of the library is actually called “Slow and Steady.” It was sculpted out of limestone by Todd Frahm in 2005 and features an interpretation of the story of the Tortoise and the Hare. Frahm’s work can also be found in Meadowbrook Park in the Wandell Sculpture Garden, at the Anita Purves Nature Center, and at The Pines in Urbana. Frahm graduated from Unity High School in Tolono and attended the University of Illinois, graduating in 1999. Frahm sculpted “Slow and Steady” from a 20-ton block of limestone, doing the work on site. During the sculpting, passersby and visitors to the library could watch the turtle, rabbit, and books take shape under his sculpting tools.
Megan’s Garden is a small garden just outside the library, along the north wall. It is accompanied by an indoor mural by Glen C. Davies in the children’s library window well. The garden itself can be viewed from inside the Children’s room. In addition, there is a reading room inside the children’s area named after Megan, also decorated with bright, welcoming murals by Davies. A Chicago native, Davies received an MFA in painting from the U of I and has painted murals for numerous public spaces, including pediatric hospitals and other libraries. His work can also be found at Krannert Art Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago, the Ikenberry Commons Building at the U of I, and the Champaign City Government Building.
The garden, its accompanying mural, and the reading room were constructed in memory of Megan Spitze with funding from the Friends of the Library and Megan’s family.
Our next stop in Urbana is the University of Illinois Undergraduate Library. This library, located entirely underground, can be found east of the Main Library, between Foellinger Auditorium and the South Quad. From ground level, you can see two entrances and a large, square, recessed courtyard.
The courtyard is decorated with engraved dedications and inspirational words along its top border. It is visible from the full-length windows on both floors of the library. Pedestrians heading for the South Quad can look down into the courtyard to enjoy the view.
Groundbreaking for the Undergrad Library occurred in 1966, and the library was dedicated in 1969. It was built underground partially for aesthetic reasons, but also because an above-ground edifice would have disturbed the natural lighting rhythms for the Morrow Plots, located just west.
The bottommost floor features a tunnel that leads into the Main Library. The tunnel has been renovated and redecorated several times, and now opens into an Espresso Royale on the Undergrad side. The tunnel itself is decorated with murals and features couches and chairs where students can relax, read, do homework, or have coffee and soup or sandwiches from Espresso.
In addition to books, the UGL has a large collection of DVDs and video games as well as study areas, reflection rooms that can be reserved for a quiet study session, meditation time, or a nap, audiovisual equipment, soundproof recording booths, and other resources.
Services and layout of the library have changed over the years to meet changing needs and advances in technology. Today, the books are located on the bottom floor, with the top floor dedicated to media spaces. Future plans are to convert the UGL to house archives and special collections and move undergraduate resources to the Main Library, which will be expanded and renovated.
Hunting for more libraries on campus could be a fun way to spend your afternoon. There are other, specialized libraries and collections that are noted in game apps, so head out on one of these last warm days before winter sets in and see how many you can find.
Top photo by Julie McClure. All other photos by Katriena Knights